Award-Winning Books Literatura Europa Non-fiction Wednesday Nonfiction Picture Books Reading Themes

[Nonfiction Wednesday] Beauty in Times of War in “The Harmonica”


Myra here.

We are delighted to join the Nonfiction Picture Book meme 2017 hosted by Alyson Beecher @ Kid Lit Frenzy. We would also be linking our nonfiction choices with our reading themes throughout the year.

When we launched our reading theme, I knew that we simply could not veer away from the horrors of the Holocaust which are inextricably linked with European history and art and storytelling. This one is masterfully told by multi-award-winning American author Tony Johnston (who, apparently, is female) and illustrated by Ron Mazellan.

The Harmonica

Written by: Tony Johnston Illustrated by: Ron Mazellan
Published by: Charlesbridge, 2004
ISBN-10: 1570915474
ISBN-13: 9781570915475
Bought a copy of the book. Book photos taken by me.

It is rare that a reader comes across a book that is both painful and beautiful; the former tempered significantly by the latter. This is one such book.

Told in Johnston’s lyrical voice, there is beauty here despite the raging war, “leaving us untouched” as the young boy, in love with Schubert, stated. Inspired by the real story of Henryk Rosmaryn who grew up in Czeladz, Poland, it tells the harrowing tale of how Henryk was taken to Dyhernfurth concentration camp, and separated from his parents who eventually died in the camp.

Despite the pain of imprisonment and confronting hatred every single day, this young boy was freed through his harmonica that took him away, away from all the aches brought about by confinement. It also asks the all-important question of how their Commandant filled with so much loathing for Jews such as this young boy, could close his eyes in rapture to Schubert’s music.

I believe that what makes this narrative work so much for me is the fact that Johnston is a poet. Hence, the language is so carefully distilled that one only gets to read the barest essence of an emotion, the soul of the experience. If you haven’t read this book yet, find it, and add it to your library. The Afterword also provides information about Rosmaryn and what happened to him after the war.

Myra is a Teacher Educator and a registered clinical psychologist based in Al Ain, United Arab Emirates. Prior to moving to the Middle East, she lived for eleven years in Singapore serving as a teacher educator. She has edited five books on rediscovering children’s literature in Asia (with a focus on the Philippines, Malaysia, India, China, Japan) as part of the proceedings for the Asian Festival of Children’s Content where she served as the Chair of the Programme Committee for the Asian Children’s Writers and Illustrators Conference from 2011 until 2019. While she is an academic by day, she is a closet poet and a book hunter at heart. When she is not reading or writing about books or planning her next reads, she is hoping desperately to smash that shuttlecock to smithereens because Badminton Is Life (still looking for badminton courts here at UAE - suggestions are most welcome).

2 comments on “[Nonfiction Wednesday] Beauty in Times of War in “The Harmonica”

  1. This sounds like a powerful book. It’s good if everyone reads something like this. This instance in time was horrendous, and should not be forgotten.


  2. Pingback: [Saturday Reads] Favourite Titles Across GatheringBooks’ 2017 Reading Themes – Gathering Books

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